From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja
A prayer that members of the House of Representatives observe a minute of silence in remembrance of late Niger-Delta activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa Snr, led to a sharp division among lawmakers during Tuesday’s plenary.
A member of the House, Kingsley Chinda in a motion on the 22nd remembrance of the death of the author/environmentalist, called on the House to rise in a moment of silence in honour of Saro-Wiwa, but this request was ultimately rejected after a long debate on its appropriateness.
The decision of the House to drop the prayer was a dramatic departure from the overwhelming support the motion to remember the activist had enjoyed, up until when Speaker Yakubu Dogara, raised concerns that adopting the prayer to observe a moment of silence for Saro-Wiwa may lead to controversy.
“I think we should run away from controversial issues,” Dogara counseled.
The Speaker subsequently called on a member and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Edward Pwajok, for a legal perspective on the matter.
Pwajok who had earlier spoken in favour of the motion, saying man since the time of the Garden of Eden has struggled with adhering with instructions on how to manage his environment, backed the call for the House to remember Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues with a moment of silence.
He recalled that though Justice Ibrahim Auta sentenced Saro-Wiwa and eight others to death for the killing of four Ogoni chiefs, the appeal on the ruling had not been determined before the judgment of the special tribunal was executed.
The Abacha regime tried Saro-Wiwa and eight others for the killing four Ogoni chiefs who were on the opposing side of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP).
Though Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues denied the charges against them, they were imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging.
Pwajok who reminded members on the ‘spiritual’ premise he first laid, further opined that the House accede to the prayer for a minute in silence for the Ogoni-9 in recognition of their humanity.
He didn’t get any support as other members, even those who said they were disposed to the adoption of the motion, such as Aliyu Madaki, Wayo Benjamin, Mojeed Alabi and the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun spoke against honouring the late activist by standing for a moment of silence.
Alabi said it would amount to reversing an “act of state”, without following due process.
On his part, Wayo cited Chapter 4 Section 83 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which states that an individual should not be deprived of the right to life, excecpt in the execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he was found guilty.
However, the deletion of the divisive prayer, didn’t stop the House from unanimously adopting the motion which also called on the federal government to expedite action on the Ogoni clean up-and for Committee on Environment as Petroleum to monitor the level of progress in the implementation of the clean up exercise.
The House also condemned the continued pollution of oil producing communities even as it urged the Federal Government to declare Ogoni Land an ecological disaster zone.